Why work­ing is good for you

Be­ing busy could be key to good health

Pretoria News Weekend - - HEALTH -

AMID the hus­tle and bus­tle of our su­per-con­nected 21st cen­tury, we all dream of an easy life of leisure.

But of­ten that dream just keeps re­ced­ing from our grasp.

Only last month, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment an­nounced that it will raise the pen­sion age from 65 to 68 in 2037 rather than 2044. Six mil­lion men and women, aged be­tween 39 and 47, will just have to wait for their gold watch.

Mean­while, smart­phones and so­cial me­dia mean we’re never re­ally “switched off ”. It sounds like a recipe for con­stant harm­ful stress – as we’re of­ten be­ing warned.

But a wealth of emerg­ing med­i­cal re­search re­veals that hav­ing plenty to do may be the key to good health. Stay­ing busy, it seems, helps us to live longer, keeps us strong, fos­ters sparky brains and could even keep de­men­tia at bay.

Re­cently, Amer­i­can re­searchers re­vealed we even sleep bet­ter when we have lots of rea­sons to jump out of bed in the morn­ing. Neu­rol­o­gists at North-west­ern Univer­sity in Chicago re­ported that peo­ple who are busily pur­pose­ful – in par­tic­u­lar hav­ing a packed agenda of fu­ture plans – en­joy bet­ter sleep and are less trou­bled by in­som­nia.

And last year, psy­chol­o­gists at the Univer­sity of Texas re­ported that keep­ing busy is associ­ated with a bat­tery of brain ben­e­fits. They asked more than 300 adults how fre­quently they have too many tasks to com­plete dur­ing the day. The in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded that the busier peo­ple are the stronger their men­tal pow­ers.

This was true of short and long-term mem­ory, abil­ity to use logic, and “crys­tallised in­tel­li­gence” – the abil­ity to put a life­time’s skills and knowl­edge into prac­ti­cal use.

The re­search, pub­lished last year in Fron­tiers in Age­ing Neu­ro­science, added that busy­ness had a bol­ster­ing ef­fect on brain power.

Sara Fes­tini, the lead author of the study, sug­gests that busy­ness gives us more op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn. This keeps our cog­ni­tive fac­ul­ties stim­u­lated and chal­lenged, which may boost “neu­ro­plas­tic­ity” – the abil­ity of the adult brain to re­wire it­self to learn new skills.

But Dr Fes­tini recog­nises that there are two types of busy: good and bad – and the bad type can harm our brains.

“Stress has been shown to nar­row at­ten­tion, im­pair mem­ory and in­ter­fere with knowl­edge ac­qui­si­tion,” she says.

The cru­cial fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing whether our busy­ness is stress­ful or ben­e­fi­cial is whether we feel that we have con­trol over what we are do­ing, ex­plains Linda Blair, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist. “Hav­ing to be busy when you have no con­trol over work­load can cause stress and po­ten­tially harm­ful chronic rises in the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol,” she says.

Chron­i­cally high stress hor­mone lev­els are associ­ated with anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and im­paired mem­ory and con­cen­tra­tion. They can cause phys­i­cal in­flam­ma­tion, which may pre­cip­i­tate ill­ness such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

It is easy for peo­ple to tell if they are “good” busy, she adds. “It will be easy to switch off from work, you will have en­ergy for your other in­ter­ests and you sleep well.” The dif­fer­ence be­tween good and bad busy­ness can come down to a mat­ter of men­tal ap­proach.

Keep­ing busy as we age ap­pears to be par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fi­cial – even if it means work­ing beyond re­tire­ment age.

Work­ing for even one year beyond the re­tire­ment age can re­duce your odds of later dy­ing pre­ma­turely by more than 10%, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study by Ore­gon State Univer­sity.

One im­por­tant rea­son for this may be that late re­tire­ment de­lays the on­set of de­men­tia.

Beyond this, there may be an­other ben­e­fit. “Be­ing busy means that you don’t have time to sit and think about how un­fair life is,” says Dr Jane Prince, a psy­chol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of South Wales. “Busy­ness di­rects your at­ten­tion away from your aches and pains.”

Dr Prince sug­gests that it doesn’t mat­ter what you are do­ing but the key is rou­tine. “Rou­tines help you to get a sense of iden­tity,” she says.

So, while keep­ing busy looks to be es­sen­tial for our health, it seems that what you choose to do is no one’s busy­ness but your own. – Daily Mail

Keep­ing busy at work can im­prove sleep and wards off de­men­tia.

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